Women in Secularism

August 4, 2011

Are men over-represented at humanist, atheist, and skeptic conferences and in the leadership of humanist, atheist, and skeptic organizations? Does the work of female writers and scholars tend to be overlooked? Does our movement need to become more diverse? Should we give careful consideration to the relationship between feminism and secularism?

I think the answer to the foregoing questions is obvious.  What is not obvious is why these questions have not received, in my opinion, appropriate attention in our movement. 

Here at CFI we think it’s high time—it’s past time—for these and related issues to receive serious consideration.  This is why we are proud to announce a special (dare I say historic?) conference on Women in Secularism, which will take place in Washington, DC on May 18-20 of 2012.  To my knowledge, this is the first major conference sponsored by a national secular or skeptic organization to focus exclusively on the role and importance of women in our movement.

This is a hugely significant event. The contributions of women to our cause will finally receive some recognition.  Speakers will include (in alphabetical order) Ophelia Benson, Jamila Bey, Greta Christina, Elisabeth Cornwell, Margaret Downey, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Sikivu Hutchinson, Susan Jacoby, Jennifer McCreight, Wafa Sultan, and Rebecca Watson. 

Holding this conference was such an inspired idea, I would like to credit for it.  But honesty compels me to say that it was a woman, our own Melody Hensley, CFI-DC Executive Director, who recommended we hold this conference and who has taken the lead in organizing it. But I did have the good sense to recognize a great idea when it was presented to me.

Put this conference on your calendar now. It’s a must event for anyone—male or female— who cares about the future of our movement.


#51 kitz (Guest) on Sunday August 07, 2011 at 12:24pm

hmmm….yeah check out the “Jesus and Mo” comic…from Ophelia’s comment above.

“there will be fewer but better skeptic women”...

and the rest of us have officially been marginalized. sigh.

#52 lucette (Guest) on Sunday August 07, 2011 at 1:43pm

#32 and #33
This is a serious problem:  Simon Davis uses his wife’s password (and computer) to send messages as Melody Hensley, the Executive Director for CFI DC. Melody, please don’t let your hubby write under your name. It is crazy. We are interested in your opinion not that of your husband. Talking about sexism!!! The irony!!!
That being said, I applaud Melody Hensley for suggesting and organizing the Conference. In fact, Melody is a great Executive Director. Thank you Melody.

#53 Melody Hensley (Guest) on Sunday August 07, 2011 at 2:03pm

Hi Lucette,

Simon was not using my computer. He was logged in to do some CFI volunteer work, which uses the same system. He had no idea he was writing under my name. When he did, he apologized. The system doesn’t allow commenters to delete comments. Only the blogger can.



#54 Melody Hensley (Guest) on Sunday August 07, 2011 at 2:08pm

And thanks for the support, Lucette.

#55 jose (Guest) on Sunday August 07, 2011 at 6:00pm

In a society without sexism, the ratio would gravitate naturally towards 50/50, because there’s nothing sex-related in the secular worldview. I think this is a good initiative to help get us closer to that ideal.

I’ve heard a lot of times that talks by women at secular events are just there to fill some politically correct diversity quota because otherwise the event looks bad. I’ve also heard a lot of times talks by women are “fillers”. I think this particular event will prove the point that women in the secular movement aren’t there simply because they have the appropiate genitalia; the fact that good talks written by women will be the whole and only point to an entire national event (not just the fillers, but the big hits as well), and that this event’s insighfulness and relevance won’t pale before any other’s (just look at the names, it’s a safe bet to say the talks will be that good), proves their “first-class citizen status” in the secular movement.

#56 Nick (Guest) on Sunday August 07, 2011 at 8:09pm

#54>> “In a society without sexism, the ratio would gravitate naturally towards 50/50”

No, in world without sexist and true equality the numbers would be all over because gender would not be a consideration. 50/50 only occurs when we force equal representation, and when we force equality it’s because we are still looking at the genders.

If gender is completely a non-issue and is ignored one conference might be 80%/20% M/F the next might be 5%/95% M/F, and another might be 0/100% or 100%/0 because no one would be looking at gender they would just be looking at subject matter and qualifications then it would be completely random.

If there were 1000 artists in a room, 500 female 500 male and you needed to choose 10 without knowing anything about them that could indicate their gender the chance of you getting 5 female and 5 male is slim…

When we truly loose sexism the gender of the speakers will be irrelevant and that will include it being a non-issue if a conference has 100% male speakers.

#57 Alex S (Guest) on Sunday August 07, 2011 at 10:42pm

I wonder who RW will verbally harass this time.

#58 Rrr (Guest) on Monday August 08, 2011 at 12:55am

@ #56 Alex: Maybe they’ll let you in if you can prove that you have actually stopped beating you wife. Look who’s doing the harassing here. Look in the mirror.

I say no more.

#59 jose (Guest) on Monday August 08, 2011 at 3:24am

“gravitate” is not the same as “the same exact number in every single event”. I was talking about society in general, that’s why I used that word, to mean the tendency would move towards an average of 50/50, (like the shape of a standard, normal distribution), with noone actively working to make it that way (hence the words “gravitate naturally towards”). I wasn’t talking about every single case. You’re taking my comment about society in general and aplying it to a single example, which is unfair.

I don’t agree that an event with 100% men or 100% women would be as natural as one somewhere in the middle, because those events would be at the extremes of the distribution, and so they would be very much rarer.

Let me break it down in a little more detail. Since there about the same number of men and women living in America and secularism has nothing to do with whether you’re a man or a woman, if there are no influences keeping people away from it, there would be no correlation at all between being secular ideas and sex, so on average there would be about the same number of men and women, I repeat, on average. Sometimes there would be more men, sometimes more women, sometimes the same number, sometimes all men, sometimes all women, most frequently somewhere in the middle. The same applies to speakers, including good speakers, because the ability the write a good conference and present it isn’t sex-related, either. So, once again, on average, not exactly so in every single community, there would be about the same number of people susceptible of receiving an invitation to one of these gigs. At this point you can see how in general the different individual events would balance each other and thus the overall ratio of men and women would gravitate naturally towards fifty fifty, reflecting accurately that society’s equality.

#60 Margaret Downey (Guest) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 at 4:59am

I am looking forward to being with like-minded individuals and while I am a scheduled “speaker,” I want to attend as a “listener.” In preparation, I want to know if attendees would like to hear about a new outreach group I am founding (Women Against Religious Subjugation) or if there is more interest in a speech about how fashion trends have contributed to the promotion of rights for women.

#61 lost control (Guest) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 at 7:43am

Sounds interesting. Almost all names ring a bell, but I’m only really familiar with some of them.

It would have been really awesome if links to the speakers’ web presences would have been provided, though. Saves us slackers from having to use google.

#62 Monique OReilly on Thursday August 18, 2011 at 11:39am

I am soooo looking forward to this conference.  The fight against the abrahamic religions IS A FEMINIST ISSUE.  I am relieved to see women in the freethinking community at a platform to discuss both religion and patriarchy.  My calendar is marked, looking forward to registration info.
In Solidarity,

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.